Oct. 24, 2004
This is no child's puzzle. This is college basketball. But like a puzzle, all of the pieces are needed to make a complete picture. Tulane head coach Shawn Finney spent the offseason gathering more pieces to join with the ones remaining from last year. Now the fifth-year coach is working on completing a picture of success.
"We definitely do not have all of the pieces yet," Finney said. "But we have more than at any other time since I have been here."
The bottom line is that we need to play as a team. We do not have one player who is going to lift us to the NCAA Tournament. If we play together as a team, that is how we will reach success.
Head coach Shawn Finney
Three seniors lead the way; point guard Marcus Kinzer will direct the offense while long-range marksmen Ben Benfield and Ivan Pjevcveic will fire away from downtown. Kinzer was one of four players in Conference USA to average more than 10.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds last year, while Benfield led the Wave in three-pointers. Pjevcevic returns to the lineup after redshirting last year with a knee injury. He is the most accurate three-point shooter in school history at 43.9 percent.
After gaining a wealth of experience as rookies last year, the sophomore class of Vincent Camper, Chris Moore and Kory Castine will all battle for starting jobs this year. The trio combined to start 19 games in 2003-04, with Camper proving able at the point, Moore providing another shooter and Castine banging inside.
The five-man freshman class is composed of a potential starting lineup. Two talented post players, David Gomez and Robinson Louisme, are joined by a pair of athletic wings in Matt Wheaton and Donnie Stith and a speedy point guard in Taylor Rochestie.
Kinzer (Sr., 5-10, 180, Nashville, Tenn.) packed the stat sheet last year, averaging 10.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He also nailed 25 three-pointers at a team-best 36.2 percent clip while leading the squad with 44 steals. One of his top performances came against UAB, which reached the Sweet Sixteen as he scored a career-high 19 points to lead the Wave to an upset victory.
"Marcus started every game last year," Finney said. "He gained great experience, and he worked extremely hard over the summer. He has added some weight and muscle, and he needed to add that strength. He understands that he needs to be more of a leader on a day-to-day basis, and he is really starting to grasp that role and buy into it."
"Vincent brings toughness; he penetrates; and he's a great passer," Finney said. "We are always looking for toughness in a basketball player, and he has that."
Newcomer Rochestie (Fr., 6-1, 180, Santa Barbara, Calif.) has sparkled in individual workouts and early practices, making his mark on the court with quickness and heady play. As a high school senior, he averaged over 20 points, six rebounds and five assists per game. He will provide immediate depth in the backcourt and give Finney another option for a multiple point guard lineup.
The Green Wave will have a wide range of possibilities at the shooting guard and small forward positions in 2004-05. The full roster affords Finney the luxury of going big or quick with more shooting ability or more penetrating power.
"We have a lot of versatility on the wing," Finney said. "We can go with a lot of size or we can go with a smaller lineup. There will be many options depending on the situation and how people are playing."
"Vy brings so many different things to our team," Finney said. "But the biggest difference this year is maturity; he really understands what we are trying to do. He has the chance to be a special player for us."
Tatarunas averaged 9.3 points with a team-best 7.2 rebounds per game last year while starting 20 games. He buried 24 three-pointers and also had a team-high 68 offensive rebounds while blocking 17 shots.
The big question mark on the 2004-05 squad is seven-footer Ivan Pjevcevic (Sr., 7-0, 260, Belgrade, Serbia). A crafty veteran, the Serbian big man has connected on nearly 44 percent of his three-point attempts in his career. However, his 2003-04 season was just eight minutes old when he went down with a knee injury.
"Ivan was a major loss for us last season," Finney said. "It's still early, and we don't know the full affects of the knee surgery. Hopefully, there will be no effect, and if that's the case, he is going to have a big impact on this team."
Veteran shooter Benfield (Sr., 6-3, 185, River Ridge, La.) has improved each year, re-writing his personal bests last season as he scored 7.2 points per game while leading the team with 36 three-pointers.
"Ben is always going to bring offense to the game," Finney said. "He worked hard this summer and he is getting better as a basketball player. Last season, when he went into a little bit of a slump, he found a way to fight through it, and that is a sign of him maturing as a basketball player and as an individual."
Moore (So., 6-5, 182, McKinney, Texas) returns for his sophomore season after connecting on 23 threes as a rookie in 2003-04. His contributions increased significantly as the season went on, and after an industrious summer, he will find himself on the court in crunch time this year.
"Chris worked as hard as anybody on the team this summer," Finney said. "He is trying to drive himself to be a better player. I think he will surprise a lot of people this year."
A pair of rookies in Stith (Fr., 6-6, 205, Virginia Beach, Va.) and Wheaton (Fr., 6-5, 205, Katy, Texas) give the Wave needed athleticism off the bench.
"I am very excited about Matt and Donnie for their athleticism," Finney said. "Wheaton is probably one of the best jumpers I have recruited here. That's not saying they can't shoot or handle the basketball, but we needed to add athleticism to this team and that was the big key in signing those two guys."
Tulane's inside game was fortified immensely last season by the development of Davis (Jr., 6-9, 238, Los Angeles, Calif.), who showed the potential to be a dominant player for the Green Wave. The lanky 6-9 center led the team in scoring with 10.6 points per game, while adding 6.1 rebounds per game and setting a school record with 67 blocked shots.
"Quincy had a break-out season last year," Finney said. "It showed what a great player he was that teams double-teamed him constantly throughout the season. They didn't want him to have a big night. Coaches in the league made him a focal point defensively. By the end of the season, he grasped how to deal with the double-teams a lot better and that is something he needs to carry over to next season to go to the next level. He needs to continue to improve in order for us to be successful."
Another pleasant surprise last season was the contribution of Castine (So., 6-8, 265, Marrero, La.). After sitting out the first eight games of the year, he came on to average 2.9 points and 3.5 rebounds while playing 15.2 minutes per game. A true wide-body inside, Castine can match up size-wise with anyone in the league.
"Kory is a big body that likes to bang inside," Finney said. "He brings energy, enthusiasm and just plays so hard; that really is a big key for us inside."
While Davis and Castine are exclusively post players, at times they will be joined by Tatarunas and Pjevcevic depending on the lineups being deployed by Finney.
"Vy and Ivan give us the option of playing some big guys who can really shoot the ball," Finney said. "With their size, if they are on, it is very difficult for teams to double Quincy inside. Opponents will have to pick their poison."
Touted by many as the top recruit in this year's class, Louisiana native Gomez (Fr., 6-7, 225, Baton Rouge, La.) could be an immediate contributor for the Green Wave. He is another versatile player who brings inside-outside offensive skills to the lineup.
"We are very excited about David," Finney said. "On paper, he is the best high school player we have ever signed. He can play inside and out, he runs the floor, he has good range, and I think he is going to have an impact as a freshman inside."
Louisme is another big-bodied freshman who will contribute depth to the frontcourt. He averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per game as a Florida high school senior.
"We have a veteran point guard, shooters, rebounders, guys who can score inside; we have a little bit of everything," Finney said. "And this freshman class gives us excellent size and athleticism. The bottom line is that we need to play as a team. We do not have one player who is going to lift us to the NCAA Tournament. If we play together as a team, that is how we will reach success."
Puzzles - they can be challenging, frustrating and even exciting. For Shawn Finney, working with more players than ever before gives him the pieces to turn this 2004-05 Tulane Basketball puzzle into a picture of success.